By Carl “CatLord” Rosa II, 03 November 2017
British Versus Pirates (BvP) is a tabletop board game designed by Apollo. The game is designed for two players, although with the package included for the layout below there are expansions for other factions.
The game is designed around the premise that players will take up the sides of the British Navy or a Pirate Fleet. Included in this review is an expansion for Spanish Armada, and yet other nations are represented in further releases. Displayed below is the combination of the core set and the Spanish expansion as this was the delivery on a Kickstarter campaign.
- Within the core set you receive:
- One Wind Vane ship figure
- Twenty ship miniatures
- Twenty ship cards
- Two skill decks
- Ten captain cards
- Nine sea tiles
- Rule Book
- Mission Book
- Stretch goals included:
- Four more ships
- Four ship cards
- Two captain cards
- Within the Spanish Armada expansion:
- Seven ships
- Seven ship cards
- Five captain cards
- Spanish skill deck
A spread of both boxes and everything included
Fresh out of the box there’s a lot to work with. A literal fleet of ships, a fistful of dice, pretty sharp art, and a sturdy game board. As a cross-platform gamer, even if interest in the game rules diminishes, these pieces are prime to use in other games, such as 7th Sea. One of the ships arrived separated from its base, although this seems like the glue didn’t fully hold. The depression for the piece allowed it to be affixed.
Setting up the game requires all players to pick a minimum of two captains and two vessels from the same faction. Every captain has a Crew Morale rating that starts at maximum by placing a die with that side facing up. They also have ratings for Grapple and Repel, and a skill depending on the size of the ship they are assigned.
Each ship requires 5d6 to show the current ratings (starting/maximum indicated on the space) of the different sides of the ship and its core Structure, the array of cannons available, and the speed of the ship given the direction of the wind.
At the center of the game area is a map tile called “Wind Vane”, where a blue marker indicates for all which direction the wind is blowing. Around the center tile, depending on the game mode and number of players, other map tiles will be placed. For a simple two player skirmish to the death, there is an extra tile on opposite sides of the Vane to start each player’s forces.
Above does not include the wind vane, and for the test run only one ship per side was used, the captain was later changed to match the ship size for the HMS Guardian.
At the start of the turn, a given player refreshes their hand of skill cards to three, and increments their Crew Morale for each captain if below maximum. Each ship that player controls then takes its turn. One turn consists of one movement and one attack in either order.
Moving allows the ships to move directly forward a number of hexes up to the speed dictated by the wind vane and the facing of the ship. Before or after this movement, but not during, they can turn up to a number of times equal to the Pivot rating. Larger ships tend to have lower Pivot scores, and smaller profiles where they can get higher speeds based on the wind direction. Otherwise, the ocean is clear beyond the islands within the tiles.
Additional aspects of movement are “stealing wind” and minimum movement optional rules. Employing the “stealing wind” rule, any ship upwind of another will not only block line of sight for attacking, but can reduce the speed of another ship leeward. This allows for damaged ships to play a part in the active round. Lastly, there is an optional rule that any ship must move at least one hex to prevent camping.
To attack, the ship must decide between cannon fire and boarding. Boarding can only happen if the ships are adjacent. Both sides roll 1d12 and add their current Crew Morale. The attacker adds their Grapple, and the defender adds their Repel. Whichever side rolls lower reduces their Crew Morale to 1, and if it’s the defender damages the Structure by 1.
A volley of cannon fire depends on the number of hexes between ships to determine the number of d12 to roll, and what the starting bonus to hit is. The number to cause damage is equal to the current value of the die for the side being hit and the defense bonus printed on the sheet. Any dice showing this number or greater reduce the die by 1, and if the die is removed it moves on to the structure.
Boarding holds two advantages over cannons. First, is that boarding can be done as long as the two ships in question are adjacent, regardless of facing. Cannons are a bit more restricted, and must fire through a side that isn’t the bow or stern. Second, boarding can be done through a side without structure, as either the starboard or port cannons may only fire if they have one or more structure.
Skill cards can be played when appropriate. They are categorized by color so the rules can say “only yellow can be played during another turn”. Each skill has a minimum morale to use, which can be as low as zero, but offers a reason to keep Crew Morale high if you wish to play a ranged strategy.
Unfortunately, skill cards are where the balance tips to the favor of ships specializing in cannon fire. Some cards say things like “on a successful cannon attack, deal two damage to the opposite side”. This particular card seemed to mark the end of the test game.
In the test game, the frigate had the right range to have all three dice, with a +2 Accuracy, and the captain was a blanket +1 accuracy. Defending was a sloop with full structure after some skill card repairs. The shot went through the bow of the sloop, which offered a total defense of 6 from a base of 3, +3 for the remaining hull on the bow. In the end there were 3d12 each trying to roll a three or higher, which boils down to about 83% hit chance for each die. Needless to say, the sloop was done after three damage crippled the bow, and the skill card depleted the stern (which started with 2 hull). Five damage was dealt in one action, and the sloop had its movement and pivot reduced to 1 – neutralizing its only advantage against the frigate. The devastation came after a successful boarding action from the sloop, the damage from which did not impose any real penalties when the frigate had a morale restoration card.
The mechanic is both simple and moderately easy, and everything to be kept track of can be done visually. Additionally, ship “health” is not just one linear number with no real bearing as long as it stayed positive, unlike other games or RPGs out there.
As a personal note, the inclusion of the d12 is always a plus, and getting a brick of d6’s will never lose points.
From box to table, the game can be figured out on the fly by new players, and positioning makes a great deal of difference beyond sprinting to a zone of interest.
The skill cards are small enough not to break the game, yet retain enough impact to stop it from becoming one-sided.
Ship and captain pairings make size mismatches more balanced. In the 1v1 death match used to sample the game, the smaller ship was able to dog the larger one’s blind spot and continually board until skill cards allowed the larger ship to escape and make a crippling shot. Also, having a fairly large starting fleet to choose from each side was refreshing, as many games start with just enough for one player.
Last but not least, the art and model design is quite impressive.
British vs Pirates draws its greatest mechanical strength from making movement the key to the game. A destroyed side, the wrong wind, or poor maneuverability can make or break a strategy. Most games tend to assume positioning, or use grid based systems that are not very robust.This is not the game to play for pieces/units/characters to bum rush the center to grind out repetitive, bland combat.
Only one problem sticks out at significant. When a player’s turn begins, they may use all of the ships they control. Dogpiles are a likely issue, where one side is able to attack with two or more ships simultaneously before the defender can react.
Beyond that the issues are more quirky than inhibiting.
The map scale is a bit small, as a determined ship needs only two or three moves to cross from one edge to the other. This also made it fairly easy to pin a ship between the edge of the map and an island.
Two players with their own copies of the game could be handy, as every ocean tile is open water on the reverse side, opening the door for some larger and more playable terrain, meaning more interesting games and a removal of the above tactic.
While the two attack methods play to different strengths, a ship optimized to board needs no less than six successful attempts to sink any enemy where the cannon volleys can destroy the largest of foes in two volleys with the right skill cards.
Skills also seem weighted to cannon advantage (and the above denotes some of those advantages), although a successful boarding will minimize the Crew Morale which could disable skill cards. There are also more skills to restore Morale than Structure/Repairs, which seems negligible but when a ship loses its bow or stern, positioning for boarding is all but impossible.
Finally, as more of a gameplay area issue, there are six dice that must remain stable on flat, glossy cards for each ship in play. This makes them easy to disturb, and could potentially cause spatial issues at a smaller table.
All in all, BvP has a small learning curve, a good variety of starting choices for players, a catchy theme, and skirmish level gameplay. Despite how much is in the box it still feels minimalist and doesn’t include more than you need for a game with depth. The drawbacks are some minor mechanical issues and spatial awareness both in and out of game, although they do not remove from the overall experience.
The first test game was 1v1, and a mismatched pair to intentionally stress test mechanics. There is definitely a reason more than one ship is required to begin play, and larger scale battles can easily encounter slippery slopes.
Final Score? Four Buns. There is argument for more, but with other expansions already in the works, there could be a future review for fudge factor and rule clarification.
Reviewer’s Note: It should be noted that I have been following this game since early development, and have a “Supporter” acknowledgement for feedback on the game’s earlier editions.